UPDATED: Sanofi drops the ax on 100 R&D staffers in Boston reorganization

Genzyme's science center in Framingham, MA--Courtesy of Genzyme

Just as it was spreading word of a big new development partnership this morning, Sanofi dropped the ax on about 100 employees in a reorganization of its R&D operations.

Rumors of the layoffs started circulating in the big Boston biotech hub later in the morning, and a spokesperson for Sanofi ($SNY) confirmed the cuts to FierceBiotech mid-day. The company made its cuts in oncology and global R&D, he said, sending word internally Wednesday morning.

"Sanofi communicated a natural evolution of its research and development organization that will prioritize its focus and investments in exciting areas of science and medicine," according to a company statement.

The layoffs in oncology mark an acknowledgement of Sanofi's unsuccessful struggle to develop new cancer treatments at a time when billions of dollars are flowing into the field. Bloomberg reports that Tal Zaks, who had led the group, is out in the reorganization. And the wire service adds that oncology is being absorbed into global R&D as it tries to catch the next wave in cancer drug development.

Sanofi has faced considerable turmoil in recent months, after CEO Chris Viehbacher was suddenly ousted following a cut in the company's forecasted revenue, a move that left Chairman Serge Weinberg in charge and in search of a new CEO. Sanofi spent more than $20 billion to acquire Genzyme almost exactly four years ago, carving out a big place for itself in the Boston/Cambridge supercluster. But Sanofi also faced the embarrassing writeoff of iniparib in 2013, an early sign that the company's cancer R&D strategy was going astray.

Sanofi has had a mixed record in R&D since Viehbacher set out on a campaign to reorganize the company, becoming a proponent for major changes after seeing little in the way of innovation. An attempt to make cuts in France, though, was blunted by government and union officials. Internal R&D overall has a poor track record. Where Sanofi has performed well is in partnering, with a very close relationship with Regeneron ($REGN) that has paid off with some closely watched development efforts.

Sanofi followed up with new collaborations, like the one announced Wednesday with Voyager Therapeutics to explore new gene therapies for CNS diseases. That deal included $100 million upfront, and up to $745 million in milestones.

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